Wrestling with the elements: Teams turned to outdoor meets this season

Fenton moved eight of its 20 meets outside.

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Elmwood Park coaches watch the match against DePaul Prep during the Fenton outdoor wrestling meet in Bensenville, Thursday, June 10, 2021.

Elmwood Park coaches watch the match against DePaul Prep during the Fenton outdoor wrestling meet in Bensenville, Thursday, June 10, 2021.

Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

Back in 2015. Fenton wrestling coach Brian Hastings and some of his athletes were part of a sea of humanity at the University of Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium.

As part of his ongoing quest to expose his wrestlers to new experiences, Hastings took some to the outdoor dual between the Hawkeyes and Oklahoma State. They were part of the largest crowd in NCAA wrestling history: 42,787.

At the time, Hastings never dreamed his team also might be able to compete in the open air. Then came the pandemic, and the world turned upside down.

“Once we found out the season was going to be pushed back to April, we had immediately decided to do whatever we could that was different and unique,” Hastings said.

That’s how the Bison came to wrestle not just one dual outside this spring, but eight of their 20 overall.

Those meets came on five different dates, as other schools like Glenbard East and Westmont also embraced the opportunity to make this wrestling season different in more ways than just when it fell on the calendar.

It’s been an interesting experiment, to say the least. The Bison hosted Lake Forest and Kaneland on one Saturday and welcomed DePaul Prep and Elmwood Park for their season finale on a sweltering evening last week.

For that earlier double dual, Hastings said, “it was actually freezing, 45 degrees. The complete opposite of what we experienced the other day.”

Senior 120-pounder John Quinto wasn’t quite sure what to make of the Bison’s unorthodox schedule initially. But he quickly came around.

“At first, it took a lot of us guys aback,” Quinto said. “(Then) we were really excited and really hyped.”

And, unusually for wrestlers, really interested in the weather forecast.

“It was predicted to thunderstorm that day (for the DePaul Prep and Elmwood Park duals),” Quinto said. “We were all worried we’d have to wrestle through the meet in the thunder.”

But the rain held off and a good time was had by both the home team and the visitors.

“The guys were really excited about it,” DePaul Prep coach Patrick Heffernan said. “Obviously, we’re used to wrestling when it’s 20 degrees out and you don’t see the light of day. ... It was a unique thing that we’ll probably never do again.”

The duals weren’t the only time Quinto and his teammates were doing work outdoors this season. Hastings also took the team to the Lake Michigan shoreline for a practice one day.

All these things helped take some of the sting out of having to wait five months just to have a season and not getting an IHSA state series. (Though there is an unofficial state series underway this week and next, sponsored by the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association.)

For all that’s gone on, Hastings can’t help but see the glass as half-full.

“We’re so fortunate we have a season,” he said.

Even if it means dragging the mats outside once in a while.

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